Rock slide caused pipeline fracture, release of oil into San Juan River, officials say

By Amy Joi O'Donoghue, Deseret News

Published: Tue, Aug. 19, 2014, 10:05 a.m. MDT

 This is the San Juan River valley from San Juan Hill.

This is the San Juan River valley from San Juan Hill.

(Theron Stoddard, Provided by Deseret Book)

MONTEZUMA CREEK, San Juan County — A suspected rock slide damaged an oil well pipeline and sent at least five barrels of crude oil into a wash that is a tributary of the San Juan River.

A Utah Department of Environmental Quality incident report indicates the oil migrated 1.75 miles down an unnamed wash before reaching the river, where a sheen was observed. Absorbent booms were placed in the area to the contain the oil, which came from a well owned by Denver-based Resolute Natural Resources.

The report said the spill was detected Thursday from a well that can produce up to 34 barrels of oil per day.

The spill occurred on land owned by the Bureau of Land Management, which sent representatives to the site to investigate.

In May, a 1969-era oil well experienced an equipment failure below the surface about 12 miles southeast of the city of Green River in Emery County.

The Salt Wash spill resulted in the release of release of produced water mixed with some oil and mineral compounds such as salt. The mixture ultimately reached the Green River 5 miles downstream from the spill site, aided by a torrential downpour a few days after the failure.

Bureau of Land Management officials say it will be a year, maybe two, before they are prepared to give the "all clear" on the cleanup.

The Utah Division of Water Quality issued a notice of violation to the operator and is waiting for the company's response.

Earlier this year, both the BLM and U.S. Forest Service were scrambling to untangle the complexities surrounding four spills of oil or brine water involving the same company, Citation Gas and Oil Corp., on land in or near the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

One incident dated back to November 2013 on Forest Service land, while another inside the monument was described as a decades-old spill that was exposed by flooding.

BLM officials believe the spill happened in 1971 and came from a well that predated Citation's acquisition of the mineral rights. The well was shut down this year after the old spill was first detected, and authorities soon found a small patch of oil from a nearby pipeline.

In 2012, there was a "reportable" incident of a spill involving more than 10 barrels of brine water used in the production process. The company was issued a notice of noncompliance by the Forest Service and was asked for a updated spill plan, replacement of the aging pipeline and for the spill to be cleaned up.

Email: amyjoi@deseretnews.com

Twitter: amyjoi16

1. G-Day-M8
Where is Waldo, UT,
Aug. 19, 2014

Last October my family made the 16 mile "top down" trip through the Zion Narrows. For the entire trip we crossed dozens of natural shale oil steams entering the river. Some were actually flowing and others were just seeping from the rocks. One might be terribly upset to think crude oil is entering the river in a national park exclaiming "Oh, Woe is me"

Visible Crude oil is a natural occurring process all across Eastern and Southern Utah. The River systems are naturally cleaning themselves and have been for thousands of years.

I understand this pipe line could have been much larger but in reality, in my opinion, it's no harm no foul, no worse than the dozens of natural occurring oil springs in Zion Nation Park.

2. EPJ
Grantsville, UT,
Aug. 19, 2014

Once the oil is in a pipeline, the oil company should be held liable for any spills. They need to properly maintain their delivery system to avoid spills like the one we have recently seen at Red Butte Creek and Liberty Park.

3. Loconic
Alpine, UT,
Aug. 19, 2014

5 barrels is a relatively small spill and consequently shouldn't take a lot of time and effort to contain and clean up. Acts of nature that contribute to such occurrences are nearly impossible to predict and thus avoid. I hardly consider this particular incident and size of spill to be newsworthy.

4. Ernest T. Bass
Bountiful, UT,
Aug. 19, 2014

G-day, you are wrong. That is not oil seeping into the Narrows. It's water.

5. SLC Grandma
Salt Lake City, UT,
Aug. 20, 2014

G-Day - isn't that a fantastic trip down the Zion Narrows? You sure have to be extra cautious about weather and rain storms way up-river because of the flooding danger in that high-walled canyon, sometimes with no place to climb out to avoid the onrush of water. I made my first trip down with my future husband in 1948 when I was 18 and was told I was the first woman known to have made the complete traverse from top to bottom at that time. On that trip, we saw a huge tree trunk that was lodged high up between the canyon walls - scary to think of the volume and force of water rushing down the canyon that reached that high.